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Trip Report: Western South Africa Clean Up, 9 - 25 September 2005

Day 1: Kirstenbosch and Constantia Greenbelts

After picking up all at the airport, we headed straight to the scenic Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. Here we got good first looks at many of the more common Fynbos species. These included Spotted Prinia, Cape Bulbul, Olive Thrush, Cape Robin Chat and gorgeous Malachite Sunbirds. Our first group of Helmeted Guineafowl delighted all and on the mammal front we were treated to a friendly and tame Small Grey Mongoose. After Kirstenbosch we travelled to the nearby Constantia Greenbelts, home of the very elusive Knysna Warbler. The Warbler remained elusive but we did notch up Cinnamon Dove.

The day was not over yet and we made our way to the famous Strandfontein Sewage Works where we were treated to a spectacle of waterbirds including Red-billed and Cape Teal, Maccoa Duck, Greater Flamingo, Cape Shoveller, and Great Crested and Black-necked Grebe. We were treated to good views of three reed-dwelling LBJs – Lesser Swamp and Little Rush Warblers as well as Levaillant’s Cisticola. In the late evening on route to Simonstown we spotted a Spotted Eagle Owl perched up on the side of the road.

Day 2: Pelagic and Sheathbill

Today was a day to remember as a dawn start saw us heading out of Simonstown harbour to the trawling grounds off the continental shelf about 30 miles south of Cape Point. Our pelagic guide, the knowledgeable, sea-faring Ross Wanless joined us for the day. Not far beyond the Cape Point we started seeing pelagic species including White-chinned Petrel and Sooty Shearwater. Further in, a Soft-plumaged Petrel did a brief fly-by over our boat and we picked up on numerous Shy Albatrosses. When we got to the trawlers we were treated to a spectacle of note - over 1000 seabirds including Pintado Petrel, Black-browed and Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross and Wilson’s Storm Petrel. It was not long at the trawling grounds when there was a shout of Wandering Albatross which we all marvelled at. On route back to Simonstown our boat stopped off at the breeding site for the range-restricted Bank Cormorant. After such a successful pelagic, our confidence was boosted and with high hopes we headed for Cape Town harbour to search for Greater Sheathbill – which had been reported in the week prior. After some negotiations with harbour security we were let in and after about 5 minutes of scanning we had located this all-white somewhat chicken-like bird. After relishing this sighting for a while, we returned to Simonstown very satisfied with the day’s performance.

Day 3: Constantia Greenbelts, Sir Lowry’s Pass and Rooiels

Early in the morning we were treated to a Black Sparrowhawk perched out in the open. Stopping at another site for Knysna Warbler in the Constantia Greenbelts we located Bar-throated Apalis and a calling Buff-spotted Flufftail which as per usual was not showing itself. The dismay with the Flufftail very soon ended when a Knysna Warbler flew in right in front of our noses! We enjoyed marvellous views of this little bird for a few minutes before it disappeared from view. We then decided to hit the mountains at Sir Lowry’s Pass for the Cape Rockjumper. After many hours hard work in a blustering wind we had had no luck. We did manage to find numerous other good birds including Victorin’s Warbler, Cape Grassbird, Grey-backed Cisticola, Cape Weaver, Yellow-rumped Widow and the colourful Orange-breasted Sunbird. Birds of prey included Peregrine Falcon and an unexpected Black Harrier. We then moved onto the town of Rooiels, another site for the Rockjumper on the eastern slopes of False Bay. Upon stopping at Rooiels we had 3 Black Eagles and a Secretarybird in the skies up above us. Other birds included Neddicky, Cape Rock Thrush, Cape Siskin and Familiar Chat but despite much climbing still no Rockjumper. We returned to Simonstown in the late afternoon.

Day 4: Darling Farm Loops and West Coast National Park

After navigating through Cape Town morning traffic we made our way to the productive farm loops in the Darling area. Here we picked up Karoo Scrub Robin, Northern Black Korhaan, Red-capped Thick-billed and Spike-heeled Lark. After some searching we located the Cape Clapper Lark. Other species included Yellow-bellied Eremomela, the majestic Blue Crane (South Africa’s national bird) and the colourful Cape Longclaw. The afternoon was spent in the West Coast National Park – here we enjoyed the colourful Yellow Canary and Southern Red Bishop as well as Cape Francolin. The famous hides at Geelbek delivered Kittlitz’s Plover among a range of regular Palaearctic visitors. A visit to a nearby salt-pan found us our other important target wader – the Chestnut-banded Plover. Birds of prey included Pale Chanting Goshawk and Black Harrier. We overnighted at the comfortable Falcon’s Rest in Langebaan.

Day 5: Velddrift

We had an early morning start getting us to a stakeout for Cape Clapper Lark at dawn. The Clapper Lark was not playing the game but we did manage to find Karoo Lark. After some brief birding at the Berg River Estuary we took the long road north in windy conditions. A stop for an hour or so at Paradyskloof near the town of Clanwilliam produced the difficult-to find endemic, the Protea Canary as African Black Swift and stunning views of a perched Black Eagle. After a long, windy drive we made our first stop on the grassy desert plains between Springbok and Pofadder. Here we had our first Grey-backed Finchlarks and Lark-like Buntings. Getting closer to Pofadder we started our search for the localised endemic, the Red Lark. After a long and hard search, we eventually had brief, distant views of the dune form of this species. A group of Namaqua Sandgrouse around sunset were enjoyed by all. We got to the small, rural town of Pofadder after dark.

Day 6: Pofadder to Augrabies

Another dawn start saw us birding the farm roads around Pofadder. A group of Sclater’s Larks early in the morning was a good find. Other species seen this morning included the colourful Black-headed Canary, Karoo and Tractrac Chat as well as the diminutive Pygmy Falcon. A very windy, dusty drive up towards the Namibian border at Onseepkans produced a Martial Eagle and not much else. Due to recent good rains, the plains between Pofadder and Augrabies were covered in grass and here we found our first Black-eared Sparrow-larks among huge numbers of the Grey-backed variety. A late afternoon walk around Augrabies Falls National Park delivered Alpine Swift, African Pied Wagtail and Orange River White-eye.

Day 7: Augrabies to the Kalahari

An early morning walk around the restcamp at Augrabies provided us with lovely views of Namaqua Warbler and Golden-tailed Woodpecker as well as pair of Klipspringer on the mammal front. The drive to the sizeable town of Upington delivered our first Booted Eagle as well as Swallow-tailed Bee-eater. In Upington itself we located Pearl-spotted Owlet and Malachite Kingfisher. After a brief lunch we undertook the long road through Kalahari dunefields to the world-famous Kgalagadi Transfronteir Park. In the Acacia thornveld on route we found the exquisite Lilac-breasted Roller, the very striking Crimson-breasted Shrike as well as Grey Hornbill. A walk around the restcamp just before the sun set revealed the majestic Purple Roller.

Day 8: Kgalagadi Transfronteir Park

Another early start saw us at the start of a very exciting day in the Kalahari. Raptors abound here and on the day we counted no less than 27 Lanner Falcon’s among good numbers of Black-shouldered Kites, Pale Chanting Goshawks, Black-chested Snake Eagle and Lappet-faced and African White-backed Vultures. Also seen were the lovely Kalahari Scrub Robin, Sociable Weaver, Scaly-feathered Finch and White-browed Sparrow-weaver. Mammal-wise we were treated to the difficult to see Honey Badger as well as Gemsbuck, Blue Wildebeest and Springbuck. A night drive proved to be a special highlight. A nesting Barn Owl with 3 chicks in a giant Sociable Weaver nest was quite a sight. We also managed to add Double-banded Courser and Fiery-necked Nightjars to our lists. The main highlight bird-wise on the night-drive was certainly the White-faced Scops Owl perched out in the open. Mammal-wise the night drive was superb – we saw numerous Springhares (odd, somewhat Kangaroo-like rabbit-sized rodents), the impressive Porcupine and enjoyed good views of Bat-eared and Cape Fox.

Day 9: Kgalagadi to Brandvlei

An early start produced beautiful early morning views of a group of Cape Fox around their den. A birding stop in Acacia thornveld to the south of the National Park produced an out of range Brown-crowned Tchagra as well as Ashy Tit and Verraux’s Eagle Owl. We then undertook the long drive to the small town of Brandvlei ticking Karoo Korhaan on route. A late evening search for the plains form of Red Lark proved unsuccessful.

Day 10: Brandvlei to Tanqua Karoo

An early start saw us Larking once more. Our first find was an interesting colour form of the Karoo Long-billed Lark. Our Lark morning provided us with further confusion as we came across a pair of out of range Sabota Larks, and despite much further effort we could not locate the plains form of the Red Lark. The road down to the Tanqua Karoo is very scenic and produced Karoo Eremomela as well as South African Shelduck and South African Cliff Swallow. A stop at the scenically impressive Akkerandam Nature Reserve provided us with Layard’s Titbabbler and more looks at Black-headed Canary. We enjoyed a beautiful sunset over the Cedarberg and after passing though some splendid countryside in the full moonlight we got to our guest house at Tanqua Karoo at about 2100. The days birding was not over and we located Rufous-cheeked Nightjar in the grounds of the guest house.

Day 11: Katbakkies to Grootvadersbosch

A 0430 start saw us heading for the legendary Katbakkies pass for Operation Cinnamon – the search for the tricky Cinnamon-breasted Warbler. 4 hours of hard work and effort were finally rewarded with brief but good views of this little bird. The dainty Fairy Flycatcher was commonly seen during the 4 hour haul. A brief stop at Eierkop provided us with Southern Grey Tit. After some delays with the vehicle upon getting back to the tarred roads we were on our way to Grootvadersbosch enjoying another Cape Clapper Lark on route. We enjoyed beautiful scenery in the setting sun and got to Grootvadersbosch at 2030 but not before spot-lighting a Cape Eagle Owl (and numerous Spotted Eagle Owls) on route over the Tradouw’s Pass.

Day 12: Grootvadersbosch and Wilderness

The famous forests of Grootvadersbosch were very alive. The sometimes difficult Knysna Woodpecker was remarkably easy in the parking-lot and was seen after Swee Waxbill, Forest and Bully Canary and Red-necked Francolin were already under the belt. Other birds included Blue-mantled Flycatcher, Olive Woodpecker, Terrestrial Brownbul, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler, Red-chested Cuckoo and a brief Brown-backed Honeybird. We arrived at Wilderness shortly after lunch and some afternoon birding produced Knysna Turaco and Forest Buzzard. Night-time birding provided us with lovely views of African Wood Owl.

Day 13: Wilderness to Nature’s Valley

A morning birding session at Wilderness produced Starred Robin, Chorister Robin Chat, African Paradise Flycatcher, more Knysna Turacos, Black Sunbird, African Fish Eagle, Half-collared Kingfisher and Pin-tailed Whydah. The highlight of the day was certainly our stop at the Kaaiman’s river after breakfast. Upon arrival a bird was spotted swimming out in the open – we could not believe our luck as it turned out to be a male African Finfoot that kept swimming closer and closer to us. We enjoyed watching, photographing and videoing the display that this bird gave for about 30 minutes before it finally disappeared into the fringe vegetation. As if this was not enough for one day, a stop at a hide near Wilderness on route to Nature’s Valley provided us with very good views of the skulking Red-chested Flufftail! After such a spectacular morning’s birding, the rest of the day seemed rather quiet with more Swee Waxbills and Forest Canaries being the highlight.

Day 14: Nature’s Valley

The morning walk around Nature’s Valley produced the remarkable Narina Trogon as well as Scaly-throated Honeyguide, more Knysna Woodpeckers, Lazy Cisticola and a wonderful view of Crowned Eagle interacting with an African Fish Eagle. After breakfast we drove east on the mountain passes towards the Storms River. Just beyond the Storms River, on a farm track, a sighting of Black-winged Lapwings meant that we could add these to our list. The late afternoon was spent back in Nature’s Valley, despite much searching the Black-bellied Starling was nowhere to be found but African Goshawk and Brown-hooded Kingfisher were seen.

Day 15: Nature’s Valley to De Hoop

Another early departure saw us undertaking some spectacular mountain passes in search of Cape Rockjumper and Ground Woodpecker. The Woodpecker succumbed, but not the Rockjumper – that ended up requiring further effort. At the town of Swellendam a quick visit to the Bontebok National Park delivered Cloud Cisticola and Cape Mountain Zebra and Bontebok on the mammal front. In the afternoon the Agulhas plain produced numerous Agulhas Long-billed Larks as well as a single Agulhas Clapper Lark after some work. The day came to a close with us enjoying Blue Cranes lit up by beautiful afternoon light. We arrived at our accommodations shortly after dark.

Day 16: De Hoop to Cape Town

An early morning search for the cryptic and skulking Hottentot Buttonquail was unsuccessful. A few hours in De Hoop Nature Reserve found us the endemic Southern Tchagra and Greater Honeyguide. We moved on to the Potberg section of the reserve where we found good numbers of Cape Vulture and a calling Lesser Honeyguide (no visual). The highlight of our visit to Potberg was a group of out of range Black-bellied Starlings which we all enjoyed. These were followed by a short game of cricket on the lawns of Potberg before travelling back to Sir Lowry’s Pass for another go at the Cape Rockjumper. In the strong winds, things did not look hopeful and we moved on to the Rooiels site. Here it took us some time and a fair bit of climbing to get everyone a good look at this bird. We arrived in Cape Town shortly after dark, and enjoyed a well-served drink and meal.

Day 17: Cape Town, Cape Point and fly out

A lazy, relaxed start at 08:30 saw us travelling to the Constantia Greenbelts once again – this time to add the very local, introduced Chaffinch to our lists. The quest was successful, but our search for the Red-chested Sprrowhawk proved fruitless. After a brief visit to Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope it was time to go back to the airport. Here, we waved our sad goodbyes at the end of an incredibly successful trip on which over 350 species were seen.

Trip report by Birding Africa tour leader Duan Biggs.

Many of the birding sites on this trip are described in detail in the Southern African Birdfinder which is widely available in South African bookshops and on the internet. (e.g., or However you're always welcome to contact us if you're interested in a guided trip in this area.

Practical tour information:
South Africa: Western Endemics

Please click this link for more detailed information about our upcoming Cape Tours.
Please also visit our tour calendar and description of other South African tours.
Focus Western South Africa rivals any other place in Africa for the number of endemic bird species and accessibility: over 80% of South Africa's endemics occurs here. This varied scenery with dramatic mountain ranges, the unqiue Cape floral Kingdom and the semi-desert plains of the Karoo also offers mammals, chameleons, geckos, butterflies and interesting plants, to suit both keen birders and nature enthusiasts. We also offer pelagic trips out of Cape Town, to see albatross, shearwaters, petrels, whales and dolphins.
Photography Many participants on our tours and day trips are amateur wildlife photographers. And when we get excellent views of a bird or mammal, some time is usually spent watching and photographing it. However, this is not a photographic tour and once the majority of the people have felt that they have absorbed the animal or bird to their satisfaction, then we move on in search of the next encounter. Thus, while the photographic opportunities are very good, the group will only occasionally wait for somebody who wants to spend even longer getting better photos.
Fitness Only a low level of fitness is required.
Timing Throughout the year.
Climate Mediterranean climate, which can be warm in summer (October to March) and chilly in winter (June to September), the rainy season.
Comfort A good standard of accommodation in guest houses, lodges and farm stays.
Transport We travel by minibus or four wheel drive vehicle.
Group Size This depends on the specific tour. Please enquire.
Top birds • Darling area: Cape Clapper Lark, Blue Crane
• West Coast National Park: Southern Black Korhaan, Black Harrier, Chestnut-banded Plover
• Tanqua Karoo, a semi-desert: Karoo Eremomela, Namaqua Warbler, Fairy Flycatcher, Cinnamon-breasted Warbler, Ludwig’s Bustard, Burchell’s Courser, Black-headed Canary, Layard’s Tit-Babbler, Rufous-eared Warbler, Namaqua Sandgrouse, Karoo Korhaan, Black-eared Sparrowlark
• De Hoop and Agulhas Plains: Cape Vulture, Blue Crane, Denham's Bustard, Damara Tern, Knysna Woodpecker, Agulhas Long-billed Lark, Agulhas Clapper Lark, Southern Tchagra
• Cape coastal Fynbos and mountains: Cape Rock-jumper, Victorin's Scrub-Warbler, Cape Sugarbird, Orange-breasted Sunbird, Cape Siskin, Ground Woodpecker, Neddicky and Cape Rock-Thrush
Click here for more practical tour information and a trip report.
Optional extension: Afromontane forest at Grootvaderschbos or Wilderness in the Garden Route.
• Grootvaderschbos: Narina Trogon, Forest Canary, African Crowned Eagle, Knysna Woodpecker, Knysna Warbler, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Olive Bush-Shrike
• Wilderness National Park, Garden Route: Knysna Turaco, Narina Trogon, African Wood Owl, Green-backed Camaroptera, Green Woodhoopoe, Chorister Robin-Chat
Top mammals Whales, Dolphins, Cape Grysbok, Chacma Baboon, Caracal, Striped Polecat, Grey Mongoose, Cape Fox, Bat-eared Fox, Porcupine, Cape Mountain Zebra, Bontebok, Eland
Booking Please contact us if you wish to book a guided or a self-drive tour. You will receive the booking form and conditions and a tour information pack.


About Birding Africa

Birding Africa is a specialist birding tour company customising tours for both world listers and more relaxed holiday birders.  We combine interests in mammals, butterflies, dragonflies, botany and other natural history aspects and will guide you to Africa's and Madagascar's most diverse birding destinations. Our guides' knowledge of African birds and birding areas is our greatest strength and together we have rediscovered species, shared exciting observations with the birding community and had a fun time exploring our home continent.  We've even written two acclaimed guide books on where to find Southern Africa's and Madagascar's best birds. Birding is more than our passion, it's our lifestyle, and we are dedicated to making professional, best value trips filled with endemic species and unique wildlife experiences. Since 1997, we've run bird watching tours in South Africa and further into Africa for individual birders, small birding groups and top international tour companies. We've run Conservation Tours in association with the African Bird Club and work with and consult for a number of other top international tour companies and the BBC Natural History Unit.

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Black Harrier photograph courtesy of Keith Offord.
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